One of the toughest things we can face in life is watching our parents approach the age when they either need assistance or can no longer take care of themselves. This situation can create a combination of emotional and financial issues for you and your family. This can be especially difficult if your parents live some distance from you.
Here are some tips to deal with caring for an aging parent.
See for yourself
Even if you live in the same community, it is a good idea to visit your parents’ home to assess their situation and to get a sense of how the household is being managed. Does it appear that your parents need help with grooming, bathing, or dressing? Do they need help with housekeeping, shopping, or yard work? Managing finances and paying bills? One of the tough decisions you will need to make is whether they should still be driving.
Do they appear to need help in making important decisions? Also, look for difficulties in vision, hearing, or memory. Consider having a geriatric assessment by a competent elder care professional. It’s important to be alert for tell-tale problems. Look for inappropriate or duplicate payments of bills, failure to keep track of deposits or expenditures, or numerous transfers to or from savings to checking. Watch for numerous payments to home-shopping networks, sweepstakes, contests, or unusually large donations to a person or charity unknown to you. Is their credit card balance or spending out of character for them? Another key item is if they are receiving past due notices or disconnect notices from utility companies.
Have a serious conversation
Getting your parents to talk about their future will not be easy. Have a written agenda for your meeting so that you are less likely to forget anything important, especially as emotions tend to run high in these types of settings. You may want to explore the following items with them:
- Long-term care insurance.
- Living arrangements — can they still live alone, or is it time to explore other options?
- Medical care decisions — what are their wishes and who will carry them out?
- Financial planning — how can you protect their assets?
- Estate planning — do they have all the necessary documents?
- Expectations — what do they expect from you, and what do you expect from them?
Develop a personal data record
Gather as much of the following as possible:
- Financial information, including bank accounts, investment accounts, and real estate holdings.
- Legal information, such as wills, durable power of attorney, and health care directives.
- Funeral and burial plans, including prepayment information and final wishes.
- Medical information, such as health care providers, medications currently taken, and medical history.
- Insurance information, including policy numbers, company names, and agent contact information.
- The names and phone numbers of financial advisers.
- Medicare and supplement policy numbers.
- Social Security card, birth certificate, and marriage license.
- Titles to vehicles, boats, etc.
- The location of other important records, such as keys to safe-deposit boxes, real estate deeds, and so on.